Posts by: Matthew Toro

Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to vote on legislative item 121569 this Thursday.  (The meeting was postponed from September 4 to September 6.)

Four specific bike lanes come under attack in this legislative item. They’re meant to demonstrate examples of “state roads in Miami-Dade County that may not be particularly suitable for bicycle lanes”.

One of those four lanes is that located on the MacArthur Causeway. Its supposed lack of suitability is due to the fact that, on this particular state road, “the speed limit is 50 mph”.

The lane on the MacArthur Causeway can indeed be a dicey one to traverse, especially with all of the on-going Port of Miami Tunnel construction, the South Beach partiers driving back from their nights of inebriation, and the overall speeding automobile traffic.

Nevertheless, even at 50mph, the bike lane on the MacArthur functions.

Even at 50mph, people use the bike lanes on the MacArthur Causeway. Make them better, and even more will ride over this critical connection between the mainland and the islands. Photo: 09/03/2012

Of course, it could function better — by making it wider, buffering it from automobiles, and some other possible retrofits — but it functions, nonetheless.

The people are hungry — not only for more bicycle facilities, but better bicycle facilities too. Please . . . feed us!

Early last month, a seemingly pro-bicycle legislative item was introduced to the Board of County Commissioners. It goes up for vote this Thursday. The resolution appears well-intended. However, upon closer examination, one finds it saturated with contradictions that could actually harm the community.

On August 3, Rebeca Sosa, County Commissioner for District #6, introduced Miami-Dade Legislative Item #121569. Its extremely long title sums-up the ostensibly well-intended gist of the proposal:

“Resolution urging the Florida Department of Transportation [FDOT] to Work Cooperatively with Local Governments When Installing Bicycle Lanes on State Roads; Urging the Florida Legislature to Amend Applicable Statutes to Require Such Cooperation and Provide Greater Flexibility to the Florida Department of Transportation Related to Bicycle Lanes”

Sounds great, right? Indeed. Upon reading the resolution’s title appealing for a more cooperative, more flexible, trans-agency approach to planning for and implementing bike lanes on state roads, how could one not support this county resolution?

The body of the resolution goes on to highlight the myriad benefits of bicycle-based active transportation (including, among others, saving money and reducing ecological footprints). It emphasizes how long-standing, and on-going, planning efforts have been made to harness the power of bicycle ridership to improve the livability of our community. It even reminds the commissioners of the increasing price of gasoline (being driven even higher due to the closure of Gulf Coast refineries precipitated by Hurricane Issac), and how non-fossil-fuel-consuming modes of transportation are the ways toward a sustainable future. Importantly, it also reminds the county commissioners of FDOT’s legal obligations to improve bicycle facilities wherever possible on the roads they manage.


Great initiative, Commissioner Sosa! Now we just need to get the language right to encourage more — and safer, better, more rideable — bike lanes, not give FDOT and the cities more flexibility to back out of their responsibilities to create complete streets for all road users!

All of this language is extremely encouraging and is exactly how such a resolution should be written.  The problem, though, starts with how this resolution reads after all that good stuff. Beyond those points, the proposed resolution is littered with nonsense that would — with no far stretch of the imagination — actually curtail the expansion of bicycle facilities throughout our community.

Four specific bike lanes, intended to exemplify inappropriately located bike lanes, come under attack in the current language of the resolution. This is where it implodes, demonstrating the detachment of many of our elected officials to the non-automobile reality on the streets. Let’s have a look at some of the underlying complaints against these facilities:

“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] many storefront businesses with parking that requires vehicles to back out onto [the road]”

“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] vehicles travel[ing] at a high rate of speed, with a speed limit between 45 and 55 mph”

“[the bicycle lanes conflict with] curbside parking, limited space and considerable traffic”

Unbelievable! There’s so much to say here — too much! I’ll keep it short:

  • A huge part of bike facilities is about raising the profile of cyclists as legal street vehicles.  In addition to the more functional purpose of giving cyclists a physical space on the road, bike lanes also serve the function of raising awareness that cyclists belong (practically, ethically, legally) on the road.
  • Local storefront businesses should be catering to cyclists for all of the business they bring and revenue they create.
  • By allocating just one or two automobile parking spaces for bicycle parking, you could fit far more bikes and bring-in far more business.

Local governments would be doing small businesses a favor by writing codes that supported greater bicycle parking at storefront shops and restaurants.

  • It’s the responsibility of the motorists backing-out of the (oft-excessive) on-street parking to exercise caution to not hit cyclists. All road-users must watch-out for negligence, negligence by any type of road-user.
  • The point of bike lanes is to give cyclists a safe, separate space apart from motorists on the road, especially at roads where motorists drive quickly (i.e., “45-55 mph”).
  • If the roads weren’t so fast (35 mph or less), FDOT and the cities would try to get away with just painting some sharrows, giving themselves a pat on the back, and calling it a day. (As noted in a recent TransitMiami post, sharrows just aren’t cutting it for true bicycle network connectivity.)
  • “Considerable traffic”?! Has the steady expansion of the monthly Miami Critical Mass movement taught you nothing? WE ARE TRAFFIC!

Now, there are some very valid concerns embodied in the language of this proposed resolution. They hit at the irrefutable reality of many of our community’s bike facilities, even the most well-intended ones — many bicycle facilities in South Florida are sub-par. A bike facility is useless if it’s not actually designed to be used.

We all understand why many riders completely avoid the bike lane on the 50mph MacArthur Causeway and opt for the Venetian Causeway instead. We all know why some riders still ride on sidewalks, even when freshly-painted sharrows or bike lane stripes are on the road. These facilities weren’t properly designed for bicycle safety and accessibility. We’ve allowed FDOT and the cities to rest on their laurels by increasing the quantity of facilities while paying little regard to the quality of the facilities. Quantity is not quality.

Many lanes in our community adhere to the bare minimum design standards. They often provide the absolute minimum width, and rarely offer any sort of buffering between the bike lane and non-bike lane.

Rather than simply create more bike lanes, we must create better bike lanes! We need buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks (segregated bike facilities), and shared-use paths. We need to make the process of planning and designing bike facilities more participatory. And, most importantly, we need to stop designing bike facilities as lower tier or secondary to automobile facilities.  We must emancipate ourselves from our auto-centric notions of how our streets should function.

Give cyclists and motorists a buffer to make them both more comfortable on the road. If you build it (CORRECTLY), they WILL come! In fact, we’re already here!

Segregate the bike facility from the motorized lanes and/or on-street parking and you’ll see more usage. Again, if you build it (CORRECTLY), they WILL come! We’re already here!

The proposed County Commission resolution is not the path (pun unavoidable) to improving bikeability in Miami. As it currently stands, the language in the item would reverse the little progress we’ve thus far made.

Commissioners: A change of language is needed in Miami-Dade Legislative Item #121569. Please do not support any resolution that would allow FDOT and the municipalities to get even more slack on bicycle network safety, connectivity, and accessibility.

Citizens: Please contact your district’s commissioner and let her/him know how you feel about this seemingly innocuous, yet potentially detrimental, resolution. They’ll be voting on it September 6. You can find your district and commissioner at this interactive County Commission District map.

mayor@miamidade.gov, officeofthechair@miamidade.gov, bjordan@miamidade.gov, district2@miamidade.gov, district3@miamidade.gov, district4@miamidade.gov, district5@miamidade.gov, district6@miamidade.gov, District7@miamidade.gov, District8@miamidade.gov, DennisMoss@miamidade.gov, district10@miamidade.gov, district11@miamidade.gov, District12@miamidade.gov, district13@miamidade.gov

I sincerely love riding our community’s Metrobuses. They’re generally clean, safe, and comfortable. Mind you, it really depends on which route you ride: some buses, and the people you find on them, are a bit more pleasant than others. Nevertheless, for the most part, there is an underlying sense of camaraderie and a tacit respect for one’s fellow passengers which pervades the public bus-riding experience.

Public transit brings people together and engenders cohesiveness. Unspoken bonds are formed between strangers of all races, socio-economic statuses, and walks-of-life during the shared passage to their respective destinations. In a city as diverse and socio-ethnically/socio-economically segregated as Miami, we need more transit-facilitated social capital.

Sometimes, though, I can’t help but be overcome by indignation when encountering people on the buses (or trains) who seem to have no sense of basic transit etiquette.

You know who I’m talking about: those star-crossed lovers who want the whole bus to endure the loud, profanity-ridden telephone drama they’re having with their significant others; that obnoxious group of young, want-to-be rappers free-styling (poorly) to beats blasting out of their Smartphones; the girl who spills her soda and indifferently moves to a different seat to avoid the mess she just created; that sad homeless guy in unwashed clothes who, saturated by the smell of cigarettes and stale urine, just can’t resist to strike-up a halitosis-filled conversation about his past lives (only to then ask for money from any sympathetic listener) . . . the list goes on.

Among the very worst violations of transit etiquette, though, is the most common to find, and that’s what makes it the most infuriating. Some people just don’t understand the principle of one-seat per person. On packed buses, this is intolerable.

You’ve already taken up more than one full seat for your body, must your bags take the other two next to you?! Where’s the basic transit etiquette?

So please, when you have a bag — or two, or three, or four — with you on transit, please volunteer to remove it from the seat. Place the item(s) on your lap, under the seat, or, when available, in the overhead luggage rack.

Nobody should bear the burden of actually having to ask permission to occupy a seat covered by bags, or your extended feet, or your left-over slice of pizza, etc. The burden shouldn’t fall on the person looking for a seat. The seat(s) should be graciously offered by the person whose articles occupy it by removing them invitingly as those in need of a seat board the bus.

Please occupy only one seat until you’re absolutely sure you’re not denying any other passenger a place to sit. It makes the whole public transit experience better for all . . .

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You can get with THIS, or you can get with THAT . . .


You can get with THIS, or you can get with THAT . . .

I think you’ll get with THIS, for THIS is where it’s at.

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The signage at the stations and inside the train cars is now almost fully converted.

Airport link is coming . . .

 

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Nice, MacArthur . . . real classic . . .

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It’s that time of year again, folks . . . Time to give yourself a break from the self-imposed captivity of the automobile and reintroduce yourself to that two-wheeled stallion eagerly waiting to transport you to wherever your heart desires (and, in this case, even that place you may not wish to be: work).

Friday, May 18 is National Bike to Work Day!

In fact, this entire week (May 14 – May 18) is National Bike to Work Week, one of many events being held in celebration of National Bike Month. (Here in Florida, our official Bike Month is celebrated in March.)

The City of Miami’s Bicycle Coordinator, Mr. Collin Worth, has done a great job organizing some group rides for Bike to Work Day. At least two group rides have been planned for commuters working in the City of Miami.

The first ride starts in Coral Gables and ends downtown in the Health District (click on the link for route map and details):

ROUTE #1: Coral Gables to the Health District via the M-Path

Start Location: University Metrorail Station

Start Time: 7:00am

Stop Location: Health District

Stop Time: 7:40-8:00am (depending on group comfort level)

Total Distance: ~9 miles

The second ride starts in Miami Beach and ends in Coconut Grove (click on the link for route map and details):

ROUTE #2: Miami Beach to Coconut Grove via the Venetian Causeway

Start Location: South Point Park

Start Time: 7:00am

Stop Location: Coconut Grove

Stop Time: ~7:50-8:10am (depending on group comfort level)

Total Distance: ~12 miles

And, of course, any rider wishing to join can simply meet-up with the groups anywhere along the way . . .

So break from the routine of stop-and-go traffic and miserable motorists. Hop on that bike of yours and get to work in style, with a cool breeze in your face as the sun rises to what will certainly be a very non-routine day. It could very well change your life . . .

 

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It’s always a fun experience to ride the Metrorail following a major community event, especially following the annual Corporate Run.

This year marked the run’s 27th anniversary. Apart from being a great community- and team-building event, the Corporate Run also never fails to highlight how convenient travelling via transit really is.

The picture below gives a glimpse of just how packed the train was following the 5-kilometer run.

It's always nice to see our Metrorail at maximum capacity. More rail please . . .

People realize that when roads are packed, the most viable and efficient way to move around the city is with trains and buses. And these days, it’s rare to find streets in our community that aren’t congested.

Let’s stop wasting our tax dollars on expanding highway and road systems that leave us trapped in metallic boxes on four wheels and start investing our tax dollars in rail and public transit systems.

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Metrorail riders beware! There seems to be a criminal on the loose targeting unsuspecting passengers! This just in from the University of Miami police department:

CRIME ADVISORY

April 26, 2012

Event Description: Serial Robber Targeting Metrorail Riders

Campus police and security have received information about a serial robber who has targeted Metorail riders. One victim boarded a northbound train from the University Metrorail station.  The offender, whose picture and description appears below, sits next to passengers shortly before a stop, brandishes a firearm and demands property from his victims.  If you see the subject, avoid him and call police immediately.

This information is being provided to help keep our communities informed and safe.

SUBJECT INFORMATION: Black Male, 6’0” to 6’2” tall, about 180 pounds, no facial hair, and has a short haircut.  He has consistently worn dark suit pants and a vest (presumed to conceal a firearm).  He has also worn a light tan sport jacket, as in the picture. If you see the subject at other rail stops call 911 and/or report the subject to on duty security.

Anyone with information regarding this crime or information that may lead to the apprehension of this individual is asked to call:

  • MDT DISPATCH CENTER: 305 375-2700  or
  • CRIMESTOPPERS: 305 471-TIPS (8477)

Callers will remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward.

As regular Metrorail riders know, the train is a safe, efficient, stress-free, and pleasant way to get around town (at least certain parts of town). Don’t be discouraged by this isolated incident by some goon trying to disturb the peace typically found on our Metrorail.

The incident conveyed in the above crime advisory got me thinking about the unnarmed volunteer group founded in New York City, the Guardian Angels.  By the late 1970s, conditions on the NYC subway system had gotten pretty rough, and a group of citizens got together to provide a sense of security for the passengers on the trains. 

Back in the day, the Guardian Angels made their presence known on the NYC subway system.

For the most part, crime on our Miami Metrorail is not common. Furthermore, whatever minimal criminality does manifest on our public transportation system is nowhere near the scale of that in NYC a few decades ago.

In any case, be viligant out there folks. The Metrorail belongs to us, the people, not some thug with a gun.

 

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It was a sad day in Hialeah yesterday when I came upon this sign relegating people to a position of subservience to automobiles.

Our community has a very long way to go towards re-establishing bipedal homo sapiens as the true masters of the urban realm, and Hialeah is – sorry to say – among the most dehumanizing, least humane places to be a walker.

Who in Hialeah – the 10th largest city in the US with a population density of over 10,000; the densest US city without a skyscraper – will emerge as the champions for a livable urbanism?

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The Transit Subcommittee of the Miami-Dade County MPO Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) recently met on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Among the items on the agenda were updates on pigeon defecation issues at various Metrorail stations, on Miami-Dade Transit’s alternative fuels usage, and on the configuration of the soon-to-be-purchased Metrorail train cars.

Unfortunately, though, virtually no new information was actually provided at the CTAC Transit subcommittee meeting on the new Metrorail cars. Mr. Jerry Blackman, General Superintendent of Rail Maintenance  for Miami-Dade Transit, regretfully explained to the subcommittee that all County officials and employees were prohibited to speak on any details pertaining to the new Metrorail cars due to the imposition of the “Cone of Silence”.

According to a Miami-Dade County Administrative Order promulgated in 2002 and an accompanying memo, the Cone of Silence is a policy “designed to protect the integrity of the procurement process by shielding it from undue influences prior to the recommendation of contract award”. Basically, the Cone of Silence is intended to ensure that no local government officials or staff engage in any sort of funny business deal-making when the local government in question is awarding work contracts.

Indeed, Request for Proposals (RFP) #654 for the “Purchase of New Heavy Rail Vehicles” is listed on page 22 of the most current Cone of Silence Report as of January 9, 2012. However, it seems that Superintendent Blackman may have been overly circumspect by giving the CTAC such limited information on the new cars. According to that 2002 Administrative Order and memo, County personnel are exempted from the provisions of the Cone of Silence during publicly-announced meetings, such as Wednesday’s CTAC Transit subcommittee meeting.

Nevertheless, with some persistent probing by various CTAC members, Superintendent Blackman did suggest that the new train cars would include “the latest technology”, including more reliable vehicles, a better public address (PA) system, and in-train screen monitors indicating the train’s arrival times. Mr. Blackman also confirmed that Transit is looking at the prospect of integrating more advertising into the train cars to help generate revenue.

The issue of bike racks in the train cars also came up, and Superintendent Blackman confirmed that Transit is actively working-out the logistics and other technical practicalities of incorporating bike racks throughout the whole train (not just the last car). He suggested that some sort of bike signs would be included on the exterior of the new train cars designating which cars would accommodate bikes, as is done on the Portland light-rail MAX.

CTAC member Dr. Claudius Carnegie rightly directed the committee’s attention to the inadequacy of the current Metrorail Bike and Ride policies, adding that there needed to be greater “bicycle facilitation system-wide”. His comments echoed the recent Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) resolution #16-2011 requesting that Miami-Dade Transit review and update the existing rules of the Bike and Ride program.

All in all, those in attendance learned more about Miami-Dade Transit’s pigeon roosting and defecation elimination strategies than the configuration of the new Metrorail cars. Given the recent controversy over the purchase of the new train cars, the caution exercised by Superintendent Blackman during the Cone of Silence for this RFP is quite understandable. The Cone of Silence for this contract is expected to be lifted sometime in Spring 2012.

On a very positive final note, Mr. Blackman stressed how he and the rest of the Transit Department are eager to involve more members of the public, including the bicycle community, on optimizing the configuration of the new Metrorail train cars for all!

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It was a pleasant surprise last week to find, not merely one, but two, vertical bike racks on Metrorail train car #141. And, it just so happens that car #141 was the last wagon that day – interesting . . .

You may remember that several months ago, there seemed to be a sort of prototype rack on one of the train cars, yet not the last one (as one would expect since the official rules governing the Metrorail Bike & Ride program currently mandate that all bikes go to the back of the train). The South Florida Bike Coalition posted on this confusing observation in January 2011 and questioned, “This rack was installed on the second car – does this mark a change regulating where people can bring their bikes on the train?” After weeks of multiple sightings of this mysterious single rack on Metrorail, it seemed to have disappeared altogether. The observation last week of these two new racks seems to suggest that we’re getting closer – slowly but surely – to seeing a more permanent presence of bike racks on Metrorail.

However, train wagon #141 (the car in which these racks are installed) has not remained the last car, so many reading this may have already seen these racks on #141 as the non-ultimate train car. That’s important to note . . . See, just as different buses are regularly shifted to drive the numerous bus routes throughout the county, Metrorail train cars are regularly alternated to different positions within the chain of wagons. This technical procedure, the constant interchanging of the train cars, is one of the primarily challenges to creating a set of more equitable, enforceable, and sustainable Bike & Ride policies.

As I see it, there are two fundamental options here: (1) make more space exclusively in the last car to accommodate the numerous and increasing bike-train riders while making the last car more of a “standing car”, and/or (2) put an adequate number of bike racks throughout all, or at least most, of the train cars, with conspicuous signage on the outside of the train doors/cabins indicating which cars have bike racks and which do not. I personally favor the latter.

The bike racks seen last week are of a different model than those seen around this time last year. (Perhaps the County has finally made a decision as to which models are most appropriate and cost effective for our community’s trains (?)) To accommodate these newer racks, two separates pairs of seats were removed on each side of the front of the train wagon. That makes four seats lost to two bikes. One less sympathetic to bikes on the train may initially find this trade-off unwarranted: “How could you justify giving up two seats just for one bike?!” It’s a fair question, and the response is simple.

While two seats are lost to a bike safely secured on a rack, it would be at least two seats (and sometimes even four or five, for those despicably inconsiderate bike passengers) lost to a bike on the train not neatly stationed on a rack. Additionally, having these dedicated spaces on the train for riders to safely secure their bicycles will significantly reduce the many intra-train mobility conflicts and safety issues abounding in the absence of such spaces. People will no longer have to play a body-contorting game of Twister with one another through a gauntlet of legs, handlebars, tires, baby strollers, and wheelchairs. An adequate presence of bike racks throughout the entire train – say, four to eight in each car – would do wonders to alleviate the many common conflicts that arise among cyclist and non-cyclist Metrorail riders.

Indeed, let’s hope these racks are here to stay and the County is preparing to expand them throughout the entire train. That would suffice until 2014 – or until Miami-Dade Transit gets cleared by the Federal Transit Administration to proceed with its $300 million deal to procure 136 new trains, originally slated for 2014. Whatever happens with the feds, these two new racks are a welcome addition to the train, and we hope to see more! As recently described on this site, though, even with new bike racks, there remain many challenges and opportunities to a sustainable Bike & Ride program on Metrorail.

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